Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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The best moments in this small book read like notebook entries that might, with sharp effort, end up as pieces in
the construction of a poem. The “VALU INN,” for instance, described in fragmentary bits: “Room
203 smells like Lysol, maxi pad perfume, and latex. // Free cable // No soap,” or “No smoking
allowed, but there’s an ashtray glued on top of the television. // Wall-mounted bottle opener next to the
toilet. // There’s DNA all over this place.” But we have only these scattered images, unpolished,
with little sense, it seems, for rhythm or arrangement, organic flow. And while this particular poem seeks to
somehow sum itself up with an image of an adhesive bandage, some meth stains, there is no real take-away, no
lasting effect. We don’t see or feel this hotel, or see or feel other hotels any differently after this
poem. If anything, there is a canned sense, too cute, an over-accumulation of suspiciously angled objects. (Clown
paintings, really?) We are tipped out, trapped beyond the poem, looking in from a distance at a very personal
view that we cannot share.
This sense of the inaccessible personal perspective characterizes the poems of Next Analog Broadcast. Here is a voice which lists nostalgic moments from childhood or casts asides at a “society” it seemingly opposes, but all of this comes out in a jumble, ultimately unformed, often bouncing from register to register, point to point, from the possibly poignant claim that “The loneliest masturbators always need somebody around to watch” to the surely defensive retreat of comparing a woman’s fishnet hose to waffles, to breakfast food. One longer poem, “15 Limited,” chronicles a bus trip, listing observed facts in the same kind of effusive accumulation as the poem about the motel:
I see the 15 Limited straddle rush hour and I jumble through my pockets for bus fare.
It’s a hot day. The driver is out of transfers. The bus is packed....
Past the Guardian Angels headquarters that’s never open.
Past a woman wearing a Broncos football jersey, sweatpants, and running shoes. Only cops look like prostitutes in movies.
Note the non sequitur, the skip from one incomplete image (the woman in the jersey) to an unrelated claim (which may well be accurate, but is linked to nothing else in this poem). Then on...
Home is getting closer. The bell rings just before my stop on Downing St.
Like a notebook again, or a forced stream-of-consciousness, a pure recitation of facts without anything for the reader to grasp onto, to connect with...
I trip on an oxygen tank hooked to a man bitching about the price of cigarettes.
Too precious, too much and too quickly, but then the money shot, the poem’s grand concluding gesture:
Every city has a 15 Limited. The grumbling lunatics and broken views are the same in every town. It’s the only place I pay to test my tolerance of humanity and walk away smelling like other peoples’ mistakes.
“Mistakes,” he writes, as if these “other people” are stumbling toward failure. This is
not only a dismissive move—refusing to engage in these “other people” as actual humans—it
is one motivated, I feel, by anger. In another poem, the narrator “Can’t tell if the barista thinks I
am like her parents and society. / Can’t tell if I am one of the people she blames for everything.”
This dichotomy, or one quite like it, pervades these poems. The poetic voice of this book is driven by a
bitterness, an anger at the imposition of a certain kind of “society” defined by “nannies who
push strollers with off-road tires” and the sort of person who wears “a spray-on tan and a smile that
goes ‘ding.’” Yet while this “society” is sometimes summed by the corporate
authorities of, say, “the label” that warp the rock singer’s image, forcing him “to
practice the squint and sneer the label says sells,” the real rage is focused not on women, women who, in
their complicity with this “society” and its cult of the image, are not only detestable for the
narrator of these poems but also attractive, desirable.
Doormen stare at women who lie about their age as they grow older, “High heals clip-clop in rhythm with the war on carbs,” model-types are described not merely in terms of their skin and skinniness but also by the way they play up the illusion of being “every possessive pronoun.” The virulence of the anger against “Manufactured pretty” women, presented here as “One step above blowup doll” is disturbing, yet it is also, like the rest of this book, sloppily done, unconvincing, too precious in its extremes. That a woman “only drinks colored cocktails that match her outfits,” is already a slim possibility, but that “She wears vintage panties. They are used but new to her” begins to strain credibility. This woman, of course, is quickly reduced to a focal point for anger and lust; “She is a cult of confrontation. Asks favors like she’s never been told no. Years of swallow. She wants to spit back.” This is followed soon by hard sex, poem as violent fantasy but as little else.
The possibility of real social, moral critique stays at the sidelines, like the man in one poem whom “someone tried to hang.” He stands outside a yoga studio, “not a good kind of high,” trying to gather signatures for the AIDS Walk, footprints on his battered T-shirt. But what gets the real attention here—and, somehow, an indictment—is the yoga class, bending and stretching. In the presence of other people’s suffering, whether here on the sidewalk or on the bus or in a much-used motel room, the narrators of these poems can’t come to care, so distracted is he by his seething resentment at the “manufactured pretty” all around him. In the midst of very personal wars against “society,” the narrators of these poems leave us ultimately outside, unable to understand or relate, to feel or empathize. More likely, readers will find these narrators to be hostile, spewing ugly misogynistic fantasies, using poems to lash out and deny any vulnerability that might exist at the root of such embattled fantasies.
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